Edmodo + Evernote = my ideal iPad-classroom workflow!

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I have been teaching in iPad classrooms for nearly 18 months now. During the first few months, the biggest obstacle I faced was creating an efficient workflow between myself and the students. By ‘workflow‘ I am referring to a system that enables the teacher to easily distribute tasks to the students, collect that work back from students, and efficiently give them feedback on their learning. Initially, I would e-mail the students the task sheet, then they would download it and open it in another ‘app’ that allows them to work on it. Once finished, the students would e-mail me the work back. Lots of e-mails got lost, or my e-mail became too hard to organise and manage. Also, students could not e-mail big files like videos they’ve been working on. Additionally, having to e-mail all feedback to students was not fun. Basically, an iPad workflow that relies mostly on e-mail can be a big headache (in my opinion, at least).

Towards the end of 2012, Edmodo introduced a wonderful new feature to their iPad app: the ability to import a document from any iPad app into Edmodo, and hence upload it to your Edmodo Library. This was a great update, and many teachers got excited about it. This meant that now I can use my iPad to upload handouts/task-sheets and then attach them to an ‘assignment‘ post on Edmodo. It also meant that students could download these task-sheets/handouts, work on them in another app, then upload them back onto Edmodo to submit for an ‘assignment’ post. I quickly started using Edmodo in that manner with my year 8 Humanities class. It was great!

All minor tasks and major assessments were assigned through Edmodo, whereby the students would download the task-sheet, work on the assignment in the designated app (Pages, Keynote, iMovie, Notability and Skitch are the most popular in my classroom), then submit their finished product back on Edmodo. Once all assignments are submitted, I then download each student’s submission, mark/grade their work and give them the numerical grade and feedback comment all on Edmodo. The same applies for Edmodo Quizzes: the students can solve them on Edmodo, and view their answers and marks/feedback on Edmodo. In short, Edmodo offers a very efficient, manageable and free workflow system for teachers in an iPad classroom: teachers can easily distribute work to students, collect work back, mark/grade it and give feedback all on the one platform! Below are some annotated screenshots of all the great things Edmodo helps me accomplish in my classroom:

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However, I quickly realized that I also wanted my students to collect all that work they’re doing into one easily accessible ‘portfolio’, as opposed to it just being on the other apps, and then submitted on Edmodo. This is where Evernote has been a great help. Any student-created Keynote presentations, Pages documents, annotated PDFs, and annotated photos that the students submit on Edmodo, they can also export to Evernote (in their ‘notebook’ which they ‘share’ with me). I always ask my students to export and submit everything in PDF-format as it preserves the formatting of the document. Once I mark the assignment on Edmodo, the students take a screenshot of the feedback comment and the numerical grade. These screenshots are then added into the same note on Evernote where they attached their work in PDF format. An example of this is shown below:

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Since the students had free accounts on Evernote, I could view everything they added into their ‘Shared Notebook’, but I could not modify or edit any notes. Therefore, by the end of the first term of this year, I decided to trial having a premium account. I created a notebook per student, and shared it with them. Since mine was a premium account, that allowed the both of us to edit and modify notes. We continued to use both Edmodo and Evernote in the same way, however I could now leave my feedback directly in their Evernote notebook for the minor activities finished in class, and use the Edmodo ‘Assignment’ feature for the major assessments. One way by which these shared Evernote notebooks have also been a great help is how I use them to give feedback on quizzes completed on Google Forms. I often create quizzes and tests on Google Forms for my students to complete. The students would access the quiz/test through the URL that I post on Edmodo, and take a screenshot of their filled-in forms before clicking ‘Submit’. I would then open the form responses in  spreadsheet-format, copy each student’s ‘row’ of responses and the row of questions, and paste both into their workbook along with my feedback and mark. Here is an example:

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I have also previously written feedback notes in the students’ shared notebooks where I would attach a PDF rubric, and an audio-note along with the numerical marks. I usually do that at the end of every term. Here is an example of that:

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To conclude, Edmodo and Evernote together have really helped me setup an efficient and manageable workflow for my iPad classroom. All tasks can be distributed through Edmodo, downloaded by students from Edmodo into other apps, submitted or ‘turned-in’ through Edmodo, marked/graded on Edmodo, and students can even receive feedback on Edmodo. I would definitely direct any teacher interested in finding out more about it to the ‘Edmodo Help-Centre‘. Furthermore, Evernote has been a great help in allowing the students to collect all this work (along with the feedback received on it) into the one place in the form of a portfolio. Below are some screencasts explaining certain how-tos associated with my workflow, and a screencast giving a tour of my one of my students’ shared notebooks.

10 reasons I love using Edmodo in my iPad classroom…

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I can not describe how much easier Edmodo has made my teaching! At the beginning of this academic year, and in my capacity as an eLearning leader, I was involved in a whole-school effort to rollout Edmodo. The eLearning leaders at school gathered all teachers and showed them a few videos highlighting the benefits of Edmodo, then we divided all staff between us and went on to smaller workshops to help them set up their own accounts and classes. It caught like wildfire! I had staff approaching me everyday wanting to learn more and find out ways to use it better.

In my school, we have three year levels using the iPads (years 6, 7 and 8), and two year levels using laptops (years 9 and 10). Every student in those five year levels has a personal learning device, whether it’s a laptop or iPad. I generally teach the earlier middle years, and I am in charge of the school’s iPad program. Therefore my focus is usually on the iPad as a personal learning device. Edmodo now offers a fantastic iPad app, especially after recent updates just before Christmas 2012. I will try to list the many ways I use Edmodo, and why I love it so much:

  • It is now very easy to share a worksheet or handout with my students on Edmodo. If I prepare a worksheet on Pages or have a worksheet in my Dropbox, all I need to do is ‘open in another app’ and select Edmodo. I prefer to share worksheets and handouts as a PDF, because that preserves the formatting of the document and it’s very easy for students to download an app that allows them to annotate PDFs (like Notability or TypeOnPDF).
  • Students can easily download a document from Edmodo, use it in another app (like a PDF annotation app) and then upload it again onto Edmodo to submit it as an ‘assignment’. This solves the whole ‘work-flow’ problem that many teachers faced upon the introduction of iPads into the classroom. Worksheets, handouts, task sheets, graphic organizers, anything you want the students to work on, just upload it into your library, add it to a folder that you share with the students or attach it to a post, then they access it and open it in another app. Once they have finished, they need to upload it into their ‘backpacks’ and then submit it as an attachment to an ‘assignment’ that you posted.
  • Edmodo’s ‘assignment’ feature allows me to post an assignment with a due date and a task sheet, see who submitted it and when, mark it using a PDF annotation tool, grade/assess it and give feedback all in one neat place. It really is hassle-free! While the desktop version of Edmodo allows better assignment-marking features than the iPad app, I can still mark simple assignments on-the-go from my iPad.
  • Edmodo’s ‘quiz’ feature allows me to create really quick and simple quizzes to use in class. Creating the quiz is really simple, and I can use multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, or even short answer questions. It also shows you some really cool statistics about the students’ answers.
  • Edmodo’s ‘poll’ feature allows me create quick survey polls in class and can be a very valuable formative assessment tool. It has been very useful in my Humanities class to help me decide what students may need to focus on more for the coming lessons, or what sort of format would they prefer to submit their assignment as, among many more polls.
  • Edmodo’s ‘note’ feature has been a great help in creating exit slips for the students. Right before the lesson ends, the students are asked to write ‘one thing I learned today is…’ or ‘one thing that surprised me today was…’ or ‘one thing I’d like to find out more about is…’. After posting their exit slips, they can all see what the others have posted and maybe comment on each others’ posts and respond.
  • Edmodo’s ‘members’ feature allows me to manage my students in each class/group. This has been very handy in reminding a student of their username in case they forgot it while logging in again, or resetting their password if they can’t remember it, or even changing a student’s member-status to ‘read-only’ if they have been posting too much irrelevant content and abusing the posting feature. I can also use this feature to award ‘badges’ to my students, which is a great incentive for many of them.
  • Edmodo’s ‘small groups’ feature makes group-work a lot easier to manage and assess. In my drama classroom, students are arranged in small groups or ‘theatre companies’, and a lot of their brainstorming is done on Edmodo, or even simply documenting group-work in a virtual group-work log.
  • Edmodo’s ‘folders’ feature makes it very easy to organize documents in a folder and share that folder with my classes. Standard templates like reflection help-sheets or rubrics can be placed in these folders so students can have access to them anytime.
  • Edmodo has made it much easier to teach ‘digital citizenship’ skills in a safer and more-controlled environment. Having a strong social-networking aspect to it, Edmodo allows the teacher to model appropriate online behaviour and etiquette, and gives the students the opportunity to practice those skills in a teacher-controlled environment.

I would seriously recommend Edmodo to any teacher out there. I would also refer any of them to the Edmodo Help-Centre which has a great collection of how-tos (with screenshots and clear steps) and tips for using Edmodo.

Technology vs. Teachnology: eLearning in moderation?

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I am a big proponent of eLearning and mLearning. There, I said it! However, I often receive comments from people saying “those kids are not necessarily learning more when they’re eLearning” or “eLearning is destroying those kids’ spelling abilities because of autocorrect and text-talk” or “eLearning will lead to a loss of lots of essential motor skills like handwriting because of all that touch-typing” etc… The list of Armageddon-like scenarios people creatively conjure up is endless! I believe some of these concerns are valid, but can also be completely blown out of proportion.

eLearning and mLearning offer benefits for educators such as saving paper, higher student engagement, immediate student response systems, fast feedback, portability, mobility and many more. Students can also learn at their own pace, and connect with a global audience. Lots of eLearning tools also allow students to create many things: animated movies, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, screencasts, ebooks, comics etc… However, I am also a proponent of using everything “in moderation”. While using these educational-technology tools enriches the learning experience of students in many ways, it still does not replace teachers, and it certainly does not entail we throw all our old practices out the window.

I do believe it is still important to expect students to write every once in a while, instead of type. Not every Art project has to be on the iPad, as hand-drawing on paper also offers a lot of benefits for the child’s sensory-motor development. Not every project or assignment has to be submitted in electronic format. Sometimes receiving a good poster about the topic where the student actually wrote down their understanding, and used REAL scissors and glue to cut and paste pictures, can be as rewarding a learning experience as a virtual poster using Google Images and typed up paragraphs.

Web 2.0, mobile devices, tablets, interactive whiteboards are all TOOLS. Any skilled teacher should have a whole TOOLBOX of diverse tools, with edu-technology being a part of many others in that toolbox. Not all books have to be ebooks, not every written word has to be typed, not every assignment has to be electronic, not every discussion has to be online, and so on… Students need to learn a very large range of skills to be able to cope with the demands of the modern workplace, but not all these skills can necessarily be taught with a sole-reliance on educational technology tools. Teachers have to find the right balance between edtech and non-edtech learning experiences, so that our students are as well-prepared for life beyond the classroom as possible!

iCreate: How the iPad facilitates content-creation in the classroom?

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Andrew Douch wrote “the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools”. I read that sentence in his blogpost ‘How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop‘ and realised that he managed to say what I have been trying so hard to say for months, but just couldn’t find the words or gather the courage. I constantly come across teachers who argue that the iPad is very limiting and restricting, and that a laptop is far more superior. I personally disagree, but found it hard to argue my case. Andrew Douch wrote that ‘if professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool’ and that it may be best to find a more ‘technologically capable’ device. However, he did argue that it is more ‘pedagogically productive’. The paragraph that sums it all up reads as such:

‘But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!’

And that is the truth, ladies and gentlemen. The iPad combines so many content-creation tools in one device, that it truly is a ‘swiss army knife’. Right there from the same device (without any external supplementary tools, and with a few cheap apps), students have the opportunity to create podcasts, screencasts, movies, blogs, microblogs, websites, eBooks, wikis, electronic portfolios, animated cartoons, comics, annotated PDFs, annotated pictures, photos, paintings, drawings etc… Andrew Douch also wrote that:

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

Using the iPad will not produce the highest professional quality, but it will make all of these creations much quicker, and easier, and that’s what teachers need to tap into. I wrote this post with the intention of informing my school’s teaching staff of all the possible content-creation apps that I have come across. The apps I mention here are definitely not the only ones that can do what they are designed to, but they are the ones that I am aware of and have previously used. I will divide the list according to its potential for content creation. So, here goes my attempt:

  1. Blogs/websites: I use the WordPress iPad app, as well as the Blogger app for blogging. Generally, I set up the accounts for the students using a class gmail account (due to age restrictions and safety reasons). On a blog, you can have pages, and sub-pages, and you can embed videos, screencasts, photos, files (through Google Drive, for example) and much more, which essentially means it can be both a blog and a website.
  2. Screencasts: My favourites are definitely ShowMe and Explain Everything. ShowMe has the advantage of being an online learning community, and screencasts can be uploaded on a ShowMe profile and then later on embedded on a blog or website. Explain Everything has the advantage of being able to import media such as PDFs or PowerPoints/Keynotes, and annotate over them while recording voice. However, Explain Everything screencasts may need to be uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo first in order to embed them on a blog/website.
  3. Movies/videos: I believe iMovie is by far the easiest to use (though many others disagree). My students use iMovie to create trailers, edited videos, short movies, and photo presentations with music and text. I think all that is quite enough for a classroom activity or task in any subject. Again, uploading these videos/movies on a class YouTube or Vimeo channel can allow embedding them on a blog/website/wiki.
  4. Podcasts: My favourite is Audioboo (but there are many others out there like using Audio Memos along with a Posterous account). My students record their Audioboos and then embed them on their blog/website. Some students also prefer using GarageBand to record audio files, and then import them into iMovie, where they add a picture or some sort of visual element. The students would then upload the podcast onto the class YouTube channel and embed it into their blog/website.
  5. eBooks: I prefer to use Book Creator because it is easy and relatively efficient. You can also embed all sorts of media into your eBook, which a lot of students like to do. eBooks can then be uploaded onto the students’ e-portfolios, or even embedded/hyperlinked onto their blogs/websites.
  6. ePortfolios: A blog, wiki or website can definitely be used as an ePortfolio. But for teachers who may be quite wary about age restrictions or the safety of their students, Google Drive offers huge potential for creating ePortfolios. Just by setting up folders and sharing them with the teacher/s, along with the Google Drive iPad app’s ability to upload all sorts of media (using ‘Open in another app’ functionality from most apps), the student can easily create and share an ePortfolio with the teacher. I have also used Evernote in many of my drama classes and I am a big fan of using Evernote for creating ePortfolios. However, I needed to set up an Evernote premium account and many teachers may refuse to do so.
  7. Animated cartoons: I have three favourites here: Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, and Toontastic. However, the best in teaching narrative structure is Toontastic, as there are different scenes: set up, conflict, climax, ending, and you can also add music to create different moods/emotions etc… I love using it with my four-year-old nephew just to get him to think about how to structure a story. Toontastic also allows uploading directly on ‘ToonTube‘, and then embedding on a blog/website.
  8. Annotated PDFs/Photos/Pictures: I use Notability for annotating PDFs and Skitch for annotating pictures/photos. Both can produce content that can easily be integrated with Google Drive/Evernote and thus added to the student’s ePortfolio. Worksheets and handouts can now be shared with students as PDF files and then annotated using text, highlighters, markers, pencils, images or shapes, and that is a useful function for all subjects.
  9. Microblogs: I am a big fan of Edmodo, and I am a passionate user of this learning platform. Edmodo can now also make iPad workflow much easier after a recent app update, where files can easily be uploaded through the ‘Open in another app’ functionality. Teachers can also use Twitter and Facebook for micro-blogging in the classroom, but most social-networking policies in schools place many restrictions and challenges when it comes to these tools.
  10. Comics: I often use Strip Designer or Zoodle Comics to encourage students who wish to create comics. Both apps also allow sharing in PDF formats or into the Photo Library/Camera Roll, which can then easily be uploaded on Google Drive or embedded in blogs/websites.
  11. Drawings/Paintings: I have not used many drawing/painting apps, but I generally encourage my students to use Art Set or Penultimate. There are many more, with more specialised features as well. Again, all output can be exported, shared and embedded on blogs/websites.

To conclude, I would like to restate: I am not arguing that only the iPad can allow such content-creation in the classroom, but I do believe these creations are much easier to produce on an iPad than on a laptop or desktop computer (where additional accessories are often required, along with expensive specialised software). The iPad truly is ‘a swiss army knife of content-creation tools‘ as Andrew Douch wrote, and with these words I encourage you all to go forth and iCreate.

iCollaborate: making the most of collaborative learning in an iPad classroom?

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I started my teaching career at an international school in Egypt. This school had a very structured curriculum and used standardized testing very often. I learned a lot from working there, I have to admit. But one thing I found rather displeasing about the curriculum was that it only encouraged and facilitated individual learning. There weren’t many opportunities for group work or collaborative learning.

When I moved to Australia, I took up a job at an IB school in Melbourne. I am still working there as an MYP Performing Arts, English/ESL and Humanities teacher. I noticed that some teachers shy away from group work. To be fair, group work does pose challenges that may not necessarily be present in individual tasks. One of the biggest challenges of group work is how to assess each student’s contribution to the final product.

I believe the benefits of collaborative learning far outweigh the challenges (I recommend reading this article to find out more about the benefits of collaborative learning and how to make the most of it). I also believe that, when utilized correctly, mobile technologies (like the iPad) can facilitate collaborative learning and make it easier to assess, as well as document evidence of every step of the learning process.

This it what I do in my classroom to make the most of a collaborative learning process that incorporates the iPad (i.e. to minimize distractions, maximize group engagement in the collaborative process, and to manage the classroom more effectively):

    1- Use a ‘group work log’ on Google Forms: I divide my class into ‘theatre companies’ which is the fancy name I give to the groups. Before every task, I create copies of this google form, one copy per theatre company/group, and I share the URL with them (or give them QR codes). The students are required to fill out this group-work log after every lesson spent on the task (for example, if the task is spanned over three lessons, then each group member has to have submitted three entries). The advantage is that all entries have a date/time stamp, and this form allows the documentation and evaluation of, and reflection on, every step of the collaborative learning process.

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    2- Break the task into mini-tasks or steps and assign each student a mini-task/step: this is very similar to assigning group roles, such as group encourager, group reader, group writer etc… I have found that breaking the task into steps and assigning each student a step (or allowing them to divide the steps between them) gives the students more ownership over their part of the process. These mini-tasks can be independent of each other or built on one another. For example, in a drama assessment task, I would ask the group to give each member the responsibility of documenting evidence of a different part of the drama process: one member is responsible for documenting brainstorms, another for documenting the script-writing process, another for documenting the storyboarding phase, another for documenting the rehearsal phase etc… I would normally setup and use a shared notebook with the students on Evernote to help with this process of documentation. It is important to mention and explain to the students that even though each student is responsible for documenting evidence of each step of the process, they still have to all work together and collaborate through all steps. Here’s a screenshot of an Evernote portfolio/shared-notebook for students to document evidence of each step of the drama process.

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    3- Allow one-iPad-at-a-time per group: one of the most common ways of assessing group work and documenting evidence is guided and systematic teacher observation. However, in a class full of 25 students, and each on their own iPad, this might be difficult. I prefer to allow only one group member on an iPad at-a-time, while the others are using some other medium to continue with their work. This means I only observe 4-5 students on iPads at-a-time (as I usually have 4-5 theatre companies per class). For example, maybe in the brainstorming phase, the group could draw a mind map on poster paper, while one group member copies it into their iPad on a brainstorming app (here are two examples, one involving a google form, and another involving a typewith.me pad). To make my observations more meaningful, I often use a quick checklist of the ‘behaviors and attitudes to group-work‘ (which have been taught in the classroom) to guide my observations, and also to keep a record of them (I have the checklist as a picture in my camera roll and I just import it into ‘Skitch‘, which syncs automatically with Evernote). You might decide to share the checklist with the observed student/s but I prefer to just conference with them quietly and give them oral feedback based on my observations.

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    4- Ask students to document the group-work process using various forms of media: I always tell my students “it’s all about the evidence”. Luckily, the iPad is a camera, voice recorder, interactive whiteboard (or can be) and typewriter all rolled into one device. I always encourage the students to take photos/screenshots of their group work as documentation, record audio notes of their group discussions, create screencasts of their group brainstorms, take video footage of their rehearsals, or even jot down simple anecdotes of group work. I also encourage them to vary the forms of evidence and choose that which caters the most to their preferred learning style. This evidence can all be added to one note in their shared notebook, which they can call “evidence of group work” or anything similar.

    5- Emphasize the process more than the product: collaborative learning should be more about the process of learning and working together, as opposed to creating a finished product to submit to the teacher. I prefer incorporating student reflection and student self-assessment during every phase/step of the process, as opposed to just using a rubric to assess a final product that the students submit. I also constantly remind my students that we learn a lot from the process itself, and that their main aim should not just be to finish and submit a finished product.

How do you make the most of group work in your iPad classrooms? Please feel free to share your ideas, tips, experiences and suggestions in the comments below. Happy iCollaborating!

Googlassroom: Google in the classroom?

I write a lot about the iPad. This is because we’re an iPad school and I’m an eLearning leader. However, luckily, we’re also a Google school! Our school has signed up for the Google education suite years ago, and every staff member and student has a gmail account. Thank the heavens!

Google Apps for Education offer a very wide range of apps that can make the learning process more engaging, meaningful and interactive. I am a Google-addict and I encourage all teachers to integrate each of these Google products in their classroom, one way or another!

1- Google Docs: Wikipedia defines Google Docs as “a free, Web-based office suite and data storage service offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users”. The applications of this service in the classroom are endless:

    • essay-writing tasks: if a student is asked to write an essay, they can set up a Google Document and share it with the teacher. The teacher can give feedback in real-time during the drafting process, and the student can invite another classmate to give peer feedback. This way of setting up the task emphasizes the PROCESS of writing the essay, and not just the final PRODUCT.
    • student presentations: if a group of students have a presentation together, they can set up a Google Presentation and collaborate in real-time to create it.
    • formative assessment: I am a huge fan of Google Forms, which allows you to easily create forms for anything. I have used it for collecting results of student brainstorms, for facilitating peer evaluation of drama performances, for allowing students to reflect on and evaluate their performances, and to collect feedback from students on my teaching and my units of work. It can also be used in many more ways like tests and quizzes, rubrics for assessment, keeping records etc… Refer to this link for more ways to use Google Forms in the classroom.

2- Google Drive: is Google’s file storage and synchronization service. Google Docs is now a part of Google Drive. This service allows sharing all sorts of files with the students, whether they are worksheets or handouts or templates etc… Students can also upload files to share with the teacher such as completed work to be graded/marked etc…

3- YouTube: is a video-sharing website that was recently acquired by Google. There are many teachers who bring YouTube videos into their classroom, whether to help explain a difficult concept or to illustrate with examples or to spark a debate. However, I believe 21st century teachers should now be pushing students to become content providers, and not just content recipients. A teacher can easily set up a class YouTube channel for students to upload the videos they created, whether they are filmed drama performances, or screencasts about educational topics. YouTube also offers a range of security options, so videos can be set to either public, or unlisted or private, and thus the students’ safety is not compromised. Here is a link explaining the many ways YouTube can be used in the classroom.

4- Google Sites: as defined by Wikipedia, Google Sites “is a structured wiki– and web page-creation tool offered by Google as part of the Google Apps Productivity suite”. A ‘wiki’ is a collaborative website in which users can add, edit or delete content via a web browser. There are many ways a teacher can use wikis in the classroom:

    • Student portfolios: a very common way I have observed of using Google Sites in the classroom. The teacher would set up a Google Site and give each student a page name where they upload and embed evidence of the learning process. Students can add video (embedded from YouTube), audio, pictures, text, hyperlinks and documents/files (embedded from Google Drive). Alternatively, each student could create their own Google Site as their portfolio and have a page for each learning objective for which they have to demonstrate evidence of learning.
    • Revision notes: I used a wiki last year to allow the students to collaborate in preparing revision notes for the final exam. Each group of students were given a chapter to summarise and collect/create revision material for, and a corresponding page on the class revision wiki.
    • Resources website: A teacher can set up a Google Site for a specific unit of work or theme that the students are interested in and the class can add educational content to build an educational resources website about that topic/unit/theme.

5- Google Blogger: is Google’s blog-publishing service. A ‘blog’ is essentially a journal of entries (or ‘posts’) that are displayed from most to least recent.  Blogs can be used for discussions, posting information for parents and/or students, student portfolios, collaborative projects and reflective journals. The teacher would have to set up the blogs for either individual students or groups of students, since Blogger has a minimum age requirement for setting up blogs. A blog can also be set up if the teacher wants to flip the classroom. I would normally post a video along with a discussion question and an embedded Google Form to help with my formative assessment and to check students’ understanding.

While these are not the only products Google offers as part of its educational apps, these are the ones that I love the most. These apps can be seamlessly integrated and combined together to create a classroom environment that encourages creation, collaboration and communication, while also allowing for the collection and collation of evidence of the learning process.

iOrganized: How a teacher can use the iPad to stay organized?

I bought my iPad about eighteen months ago. I have said it before, and will say it again: it has changed my life! As an eLearning leader, one of the most common complaints I receive from staff is that “it is really hard to stay organized with the iPad! Everything is all over the place!” I could not disagree more. I have developed an arsenal of strategies and apps to help me stay organized (in addition to the standard Calendar, Mail and Reminders apps):

1- Curriculum-design (unit-planning): I use Pages to help me stay on top of curriculum design. Once I import into Pages the blank template for the MYP Unit Planner, I just reproduce copies of it for every unit of work I need to plan. I also organize my Pages app into folders according to subject or year level or function.

2- Lesson-planning: I use Evernote to plan my lessons. I have set-up a notebook called ‘Work’ (not a very creative name I might add) and I have a ‘note’ in this notebook for every class. Since my drama lessons are weekly double-periods per class, I just write the week number and then write the learning objectives, learning activities, resources and assessment activities for the lesson/week. By the end of the term/semester, I end up having a journal of lesson-plans.

3- Documentation: I use Evernote to document evidence from my lessons. At the end of every class, I take a quick snapshot of the whiteboard and add it to my lesson-planning note for the class. If the students did brainstorms on poster paper, I would take photos and add them to the note as well. If students used some sort of Web 2.0 tool during the lesson, I would take screenshots of what they produced (for example: results from a Google Form, or a typewith.me document etc…) Other things that I can often document are photos of rehearsals, or short audio recordings of anecdotes from the lesson etc…

4- Reflection: I add a very short reflection to my Evernote lesson-planning after every lesson. The reflection I write highlights what we managed to finish during that lesson, what I need to keep in mind for the next lesson, what sort of behavior-infractions I observed and how I responded to them, and what sort of positive behaviors I have observed and praised/rewarded. Sometimes, when my reflection is too long to type, I just record it as an audio note through Evernote.

5- Attendance and Assessment records: I use Numbers to keep my attendance and assessment records. One thing I love about Numbers is the many different sorts of cell-formats you can have: checkboxes, pop-up menus, star-ratings, sliders, steppers etc… At the beginning of the year, I design a template that will include all the assessment columns with the appropriate format, as well as an attendance sheet. Then I would reproduce copies of that template for as many classes as I have and add the students’ names to the template. Once student names are added, you can view every student’s ‘form’ as just one card of all their assessment and attendance records, which can be very useful for quick data input of formative assessments in class while observing students. It’s fantastic!

6- File-sharing and printing: many teachers initially complained that the iPad does not have a USB port. I recommend Dropbox as a very easy solution to this. Just set it up, for free, on your desktop computer or laptop, and copy/paste all of the files you need into Dropbox. Then you can access them from your Dropbox iPad app. Dropbox also allows setting up shared folders between teachers and students (to exchange handouts/worksheets or submitting student work), or between collaborating teachers (to share resources). Read this post about Dropbox and how to make the most out of it. Many teachers also complained about the difficulty of printing from the iPad, especially because our school wifi network does not allow AirPrint. Initially, I used to remind them of the need to cut down on paper consumption and advise them to e-mail whatever they really need to print to their e-mail address and then print it from a laptop/computer. Now, with the iOS 6 update, it’s easy to just get a document from Pages/Numbers/Keynote and then open it in another app, e.g. Dropbox. I often export the document as a PDF to Dropbox, which then pops up directly on my laptop so I can print it from there.

7- Marking and grading: when the students send me work, I often ask to receive it as a PDF (most apps allow exporting as PDFs). Then I use Notability to add my annotations, comments and grade/mark their work. Notability also allows recording audio onto the document, which is a feature I use to give oral feedback on the work for every student.

To conclude, I must mention (and it goes without saying) that this list is not exhaustive and these apps are not the only ones suitable for these tasks. I am merely sharing what works for me and how I personally use my iPad to stay on top of lesson-planning, curriculum-design, attendance and assessment record-keeping, file-sharing, marking and grading, as well as reflecting on and documenting evidence from my lessons. Please feel free to recommend other apps and suggest different uses by leaving a comment below! Happy iOrganizing!

iLearned vs. iLearning: Differentiated portfolio assessment with the iPad?

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Differentiated learning is at the heart of my teaching philosophy. I believe teachers need to make a conscious effort to embrace all learning styles in their instruction, and to embed these learning styles in their assessments. I also believe the iPad makes doing so much easier, as it has for me. The iPad, and its enormous range of educational apps, offer multiple ways of teaching. Additionally, a very wide range of creation-apps means that students can create and produce content that suits and caters for their preferred learning style.

Differentiation needs to be equally embedded in assessment as it is in teaching. Students should be given opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a manner that suits their preferred learning style. Giving students tests under exam conditions is not always the ideal way for many students to demonstrate what they have learned. I have argued in an earlier post that teachers need to make more use of alternative assessments and achieve more of a balance between assessments for learning and assessments of learning (which appears to be a lot more prevalent to me). While my main timetabled subject is Drama, I also teach Humanities, English, ESL and the Business Studies. I would like to see more of the assessment practices used in drama in those non-drama classrooms. I have been making an effort to do so myself in my non-drama classes.

I am a big fan of portfolio assessment. The iPad allows the documentation of learning all throughout the learning process, not just the final product, which is exactly what portfolio assessment is about. In the drama classroom, my year 7 students can use their iPads in every stage of the drama process:

  • Planning : a huge variety of brainstorming and mind-mapping apps can be found in the App Store. My favourites are: iBrainstorm and Idea Sketch. Students collaborate in their groups called ‘theatre companies’ (which work very well for the people-smart/interpersonal learner) to brainstorm for their performance based on the prompt assigned or the task given, and then take screen-shots of their brainstorms to share so that each can document evidence of brainstorming in their portfolios (I use shared notebooks with every student through Evernote). This works perfectly for the more visual learners. However, some learners prefer to talk during their brainstorms and keep recorded audio clips on Evernote as evidence of brainstorming, or hyperlinks to an uploaded ShowMe where they screencast their brainstorms (works well for auditory/aural learners).
  • Preparing: the second stage of the drama process requires students to transform their ideas into writing a script or preparing a storyboard. Students can use Evernote or Pages for writing (if they are more word-smart, verbal or linguistic learners), or Storyboards app for preparing a storyboard (if they are more picture-smart or visual learners). ShowMe can also be used to prepare storyboards where students sketch-and-talk how they will go about their performance. Again, whatever is prepared has to be documented in their Evernote portfolio, whether as a note for their script or an embedded screen-shot for their storyboard, or hyperlink for their ShowMe.
  • Rehearsing: I believe the iPad has been most helpful in this stage. Students use the camera to take pictures during their rehearsals or to keep video footage. Watching video footage of their rehearsal allows them to see themselves (very useful for the visual learner) and facilitate reflection and evaluation (for the intrapersonal and reflective learner), so that they can brush up their performances before delivering them to a wider audience. Pictures can easily be embedded into their Evernote portfolio. If videos are kept, the students can upload them onto the class YouTube channel and add hyperlinks to their portfolios. Students can also choose to fill-in this Rehearsal Log and either screen-shot it or attach it to a note in their portfolio.
  • Performing: the students are expected to document their performances through taking video footage. These videos are taken primarily to facilitate student reflection, self-assessment and self-evaluation. Students also use these videos to evaluate their peers. Again, those videos can be uploaded on the class YouTube channel and hyperlinked in their portfolios.
  • Reflecting & Evaluating: students are expected to keep record of their reflections, either in written format (for the word-smart/verbal learner), or oral format (for the auditory/aural learner). Written reflections can automatically be typed in Evernote, and oral reflections can be recorded and embedded right through the Evernote iPad app. I also make sure there is some sort of structure or framework for reflection, so my students use the reflection help-sheet as their guide. Additionally there are many templates that I use for reflection and evaluation and I can easily share them with my classes through Evernote. The students can then take a screen-shot of the template and write over it in Skitch, which can then be embedded into their Evernote portfolio.

Additionally, there are multiple opportunities for students to create media-rich and authentic content in the classroom, whether they use iMovie to create trailers for their performances throughout the semester, or audio podcasts of tips for actors/directors/writers, or screencasts of theoretical material to teach other students and document their learning, or sound effects and background music using GarageBand, or photo collages of their group work, rehearsals and performances using iPhoto or FrameMagic.

While I have described my portfolio assessment practices in the drama classroom, along with my attempts to differentiate to cater for all learning styles, I believe such practices can be replicated in any other subject area. Whether it is video footage of experiments in Science class, audio podcasts of book reviews in English class, screencast videos to explain complex mathematical theories in Maths class, I believe the iPad can be used to differentiate assessment practices. All that needs to be done is to view learning more as a process, and not just the final product, then find ways to document evidence of as many steps of that process as possible.

To conclude, I believe the iPad can be used to teach across all levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy, with a very wide range of opportunities to create (the highest level of thinking on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). Additionally, it can be used to differentiate teaching to cater for all learning styles. However, it is not enough to just use it to differentiate our teaching, our assessment practices need to also be differentiated and the iPad can facilitate this differentiation.

Update 25/05/2013

I delivered a presentation at the ICTEV 2013 conference about this, you can find the PowerPoint I used here.
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iClassroom iManagement – tips for managing an iPad classroom

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So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:

1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.

2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.

3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.

4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).

5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).

6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.

7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.

8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.

9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.

10- Use ‘Guided Access’: I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access’:

To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!

The Blipped Classroom… Or Flended Learning?

Last year, I had major voice problems. A combination of poor breathing habits and too much coffee resulted in a very strained voice. I couldn’t be more thankful for those voice problems. They really pushed me to reconsider the way I teach. Around the same time, I bought an iPad. I also couldn’t be more thankful for my iPad, because that too helped me find alternative methods of teaching. I stumbled across ShowMe, an iPad screen-casting app. That was the beginning. To avoid delivering content to my students in the lecturing style of teaching, which strained my voice the most, I recorded all of them at home, in a quiet environment that did not require raising my voice. I would them post them to my ShowMe profile, give the students the URL and they would watch it at home. I later came to learn that this was the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, which is becoming a huge trend now in education. It was funny that I was only driven to that way of teaching to preserve my voice and help it heal!

I also started using blogging with my students around the same time, as it was a ‘quieter’ discussion platform. I relied on the school’s intranet LMS for that. I did not have to conduct the same discussions in class, where I would have to use my voice often to facilitate the discussion. Basically, class-time was used to solve worksheets, for revision and for group projects, where my talking would be limited to one-on-one or to a small group (a much more manageable task when you have voice problems). I also set up a wiki on the school’s intranet LMS for creating revision notes. The students did not really make use of electronic devices in the class, partly because I was still learning about which apps to use and how, and partly because there was no clear policy at the school for BYOD device. Here are some screenshots of what we did in class through the intranet LMS system.

 

 

This changed with the beginning of this academic year in January. Year 7 students were all required to purchase iPads and I was one of the eLearning leaders (because I literally begged my principal to assign me that role). The school had drafted a BYOD policy and I had to help create a framework for using iPads and eLearning/mLearning in the school, and to train teachers through PD sessions so that they too can become more comfortable with the use of such devices. Of course, in my role as an eLearning leader, I was sent out to a lot of conferences and inservice sessions, and my learning was exponential.

I was only teaching drama for the first half of the academic year (as I was employed part-time to allow me to finish my masters). But during the second half of the year, I was asked to step in for two teachers that went on long-service leave, one after the other. I created a blog for my year 9 humanities class, which I primarily used as my teaching notes and a revision resource for them, should they need it. I tried to encourage them to blog more but I only had the class for four weeks and creating that culture of blogging takes much longer. Then I stepped in for a year 8 English class. I used the school’s intranet LMS to create a blog for discussions in the class. I also used the blog to teach them about effective ‘digital citizenship’ and how to create a positive ‘digital footprint’. Now, I am back to only teaching drama again, and I am using my drama subject blog more to document the student learning and to show what we are doing in the class.

Through this journey, I have learnt a lot, and I believe I have found the right mixture of Web 2.0 tools, a mixture that works for me. This is not to say that these tools are the best out there, but they work for me, and this is the main lesson I have learnt: it is all about what works for you and your students, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for using ICT in the class. ‘Flipped classrooms‘ and ‘blended learning‘ sound like very fancy terms, but at the end of the day, the teacher is the main driver behind student learning and student success. I do believe in the importance of blended learning, as we need to prepare students to become effective digital citizens and to possess the necessary ICT-literacies that are in very high demand in the modern workplace. I also believe that flipping the classroom has its merits: most of the lecturing can be done at home where students work at their own pace, and this frees up class time for doing the nitty-gritty learning stuff!

So, here is my Web 2.0 and ICT classroom framework, which I believe combines the two concepts (others are definitely allowed to disagree, in fact I would appreciate all feedback and suggestions for improvement):

  1. A class Edmodo page: this is the central LMS system. This is where I would post content: worksheets, videos, quizzes, polls, hyperlinks etc… This is also where I would make announcements, and maybe start discussions about class-related material. I love Edmodo because of its quizzing, polling and library tools, and because I love social networking!
  2. A class blog: possibly using the school’s intranet LMS as the class’ central portal for blogging. The advantage is that it is all internal, however our intranet LMS can be quite limiting. Additionally, students can not really author their own blogs on our school’s intranet LMS, but rather only respond to posts from the teacher. This class blog will be used to facilitate discussions and to coach students in the practices of effective digital citizens.
  3. Student blogs: Additionally, I might set up one blog per group of students (4-5 students in each group) using a school-provided google account. The students would alternate posting and commenting roles throughout the semester (maybe inform them that you expect them to post TWICE during the term and comment on at least FIVE different posts, for example).
  4. A class wiki: this could be set up using the intranet LMS and could be used to create revision notes or a class textbook, or a collection of resources about the topics studied in class. The students can create and embed material using VoiceThreads and screen-casting tools, so that the wiki consists of a variety of multimedia tools to cater for their different learning styles.
  5. Combining Google Forms with screen-casting: this can be used for formative assessment of student understanding. I could create a screencast every week for the theoretical material that needs to be covered, and embed it in the class blog, along with an embedded/hyperlinked Google Form to measure student learning. I rely mostly on my iPad to create screencasts, using apps such as ShowMe or ExplainEverything. I have used Google Forms more than once already, and I love this tool. I have used it to collect feedback on a unit of work from students, I have used it to facilitate peer evaluations in my drama classes and I have used it as a worksheet to help in defining slapstick comedy. I can see many more ways of using it and there are lots of ideas out there.
  6. Using Google Docs: in the event of having to submit an essay or a powerpoint presentation (which is required in a lot of Common Assessment Tasks at school), I prefer requesting that the students use Google Docs. The advantage of doing so is that I can be granted access to the document while it is being created and can be involved in the whole process, which can then be assessed, as opposed to assessing only the final product (a submitted essay or powerpoint presentation). Students can also share their documents with a classmate while they are working on it, and this is to make use of peer feedback. Google Docs also encourages collaborative learning, which I am a very big fan of.

To conclude, I believe this framework doesn’t really fully flip the classroom, and it also makes use of blended learning. So I am going to combine the two concepts in one term, which should it be: FLENDED LEARNING or BLIPPED CLASSROOM?